Top Tips for Overcoming COVID-19 Mask Anxiety
Feb 17, 2021
For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a new kind of anxiety: mask anxiety. It is no surprise that face masks can become hot, heavy, and constricting on the face. And for some this leads to feelings of claustrophobia which can induce panic attacks.
Below, we provide actionable insights into how those experiencing anxiety during the pandemic can feel more comfortable and safe while wearing a mask.
COVID-19 Mask Anxiety: Is It Real?
The answer is yes. COVID-19 mask anxiety is very real - for those people who have anxiety disorders, have a history of dealing with claustrophobia, and for those that have never experienced anxiety before. For some, mask anxiety will only go as far as experiencing slight discomfort. Yet, for others, it leads to chest tightness, sweating, rapid heart rates, and more.
The pandemic has been full of unknowns for everyone and has left many people feeling scared and on edge. One thing that has been certain during this time is the importance of wearing face masks to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. As this necessity to wear face coverings when out in public increases, more are experiencing mask-induced anxiety and panic attacks.
Those who experience anxiety when wearing a face mask may fall into one of two groups:
- a) Those who have previously worn a mask and didn’t like how it felt so now have negative associations with it
- b) Those who instantly have anxious thoughts about putting one on and believe they can’t do it
Regardless of which group a person falls into, the feelings of anxiety and panic associated with wearing masks are ones that are completely normal and valid.
How Does Wearing a Face Mask Heighten Anxiety?
People who suffer from panic attacks can experience symptoms ranging from shortness of breath, chest restrictions, dizziness, hot flashes, and increased heart rate during an episode.
As mask-wearing can feel restrictive and hot due to its proximity to the face, it can cause those who are feeling anxious to experience a rush of adrenaline and enter into a fight-or-flight response. This experience is powerful enough to remind people of what a panic attack feels like therefore triggering an episode. Face masks also lead to reduced breathability which can resemble claustrophobia - another trigger for anxiety and panic.
It is clear that the way in which masks are designed can induce panic in those individuals that suffer from anxiety disorders. So, while they are protective against the COVID-19 virus, they are not as successful in reducing anxiety triggers.
Can Children Experience it Too?
Anybody at any age can struggle with anxiety while wearing face coverings, including children. Young kids and teenagers experience panic attacks in much the same way that adults do but find it harder to express what they are feeling. This can cause them to act out more and be angry or irritable.
Mask anxiety in children may present itself as refusing to go anywhere when masks are required or throwing their face mask on the ground repeatedly no matter how many times you put it on them.
Top Tips for Overcoming Mask Anxiety During COVID-19
Like all fears, there are coping strategies that can be used to overcome mask anxiety and desensitize your body to wearing a mask. The reality is that COVID-19 masks are here to stay for the foreseeable future, and with offices expected to begin reopening in the next few months now is the perfect time to start building resilience.
Below is a list of helpful steps that can be taken when tackling mask-induced panic and anxiety.
Practice Breathing Techniques
During an anxious moment, simple breathing exercises are a great way of helping your brain understand that you are safe.
Techniques such as box breathing which involves breathing in for a count of 4, holding for a count of 4 and then exhaling slowly are advised for panic attacks. This simple exercise signals to your brain that you’re receiving more oxygen than you think. Therefore, it can help in easing mask-anxiety especially if you feel that your breathing is restricted.
Remind Yourself That You’re Safe
When feeling anxious, it can be easy to let your thoughts take control and for you to spiral into believing that you’re in immediate danger. As COVID-19 masks can make us feel like we’re not getting enough airflow, this can lead to thoughts such as “I can’t breathe”, “I’m going to suffocate”, “My lungs aren’t functioning properly” etc. These statements aren’t true.
Practice wearing a mask, even in the comfort of your own home, and talk to yourself using comforting words to remind yourself that you are in fact safe.
Practicing mindfulness and staying grounded are two ways that individuals can overcome mask anxiety. These techniques remind us to stay present in what is happening around us at the most basic of levels. This could be noticing how your feet feel on the floor, naming things that you see around you, touching the fabric of your clothes or saying to yourself that you’re sitting on a chair.
Using this technique while also acknowledging how you’re feeling is a quick coping mechanism that can be practiced anywhere that requires you to wear a mask - in the office, the grocery store or on public transport.
Take Regular Breaks
If you are in an environment where you’re required to wear PPE supplies or a fabric face mask for long periods of time, such as at work, make sure to take regular breaks. This could be by going to the bathroom for a few minutes, going for a walk outside or stepping out to any place where you can safely remove your mask.
Incorporating mask breaks into your day can be another way to help ease any feelings of anxiety that you may have especially if wearing a covering for long periods of time is a concern or stressor for you.
Many anxiety sufferers find that scents such as lavender or peppermint encourage them to relax and feel calm. If the same applies to you, why not try and be preventative by spritzing your face mask with a gentle soothing scent before you put it on.
Spraying your mask with essential aromatherapy scents is a great way of creating a positive association. As time goes on, seeing a face mask should remind you of your favorite scent.
Make Wearing a Face Mask Fun
If you’re a parent of a child who struggles or refuses to wear a face covering, try turning it into a game. The aim is to help them realize that mask-wearing isn’t a punishment, instead, it can be fun and safe.
Try distraction techniques like making a jigsaw puzzle while putting on their mask. Or, get them involved and allow them to choose their own mask to wear. Allowing them to pick out a fun print or colorful pattern can make them feel like they’re more in control.
Choose a Breathable Face Mask
If you feel that your mask anxiety is solely down to feeling like your breathing is restricted, choose a breathable face mask.
The best breathable face masks should be made from lightweight fabrics such as cotton or linen, should be moisture-wicking and shouldn’t irritate the skin. Face mask inserts are a great way to improve a fabric face mask’s breathability. These devices are cost-effective, compatible with all mask types, and don’t compromise on safety.
Overcome COVID-19 Mask Anxiety with PowerAir
Face masks aren’t going anywhere and the only way to overcome any feelings of anxiety that they cause is by using techniques and devices that can improve your experience. The PowerAir Face Mask Insert was designed to make mask-wearing more comfortable and safe for everyone. Shop online today!